- Johnnie Johnson and Travis Fitzpatrick: The father of rock and roll, and his biographer.
If there's one guy who deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and isn't, it's Johnnie Johnson. The pianist, famous for co-authoring Chuck Berry songs such as "Maybellene," "Back in the U.S.A.," "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Rock & Roll Music," has been nominated but not elected to the Rock Hall. Biographer Travis Fitzpatrick, who recently published the book Father of Rock & Roll: The Story of Johnnie B. Goode' Johnson and helped secure a patent so that he could officially call Johnson the "Father of Rock and Roll," will accompany him when he comes to Cleveland on a promo tour to make a series of local appearances from November 29 to December 1. He recently explained Johnson's case.
"The thing that's been keeping him out is the technicality of having your name on the songs," he says via phone from his home in Houston. "Although it's common knowledge that he co-wrote all those songs with Chuck Berry, because he doesn't have his name on them, he doesn't fit. But he doesn't fit into the early influence category either, because he was right there at the beginning [of rock and roll]. It's hard finding the right category to put him in. I think they are working hard to find something to do. It's ridiculous that he's not in, and they know it. They're doing what they can."
Fitzpatrick, who is still an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, hadn't actually written much more than a term paper before starting to pen the biography of Johnson, who was friends with his father. Born in Fairmount, West Virginia, Johnson started playing piano as a teenager and then honed his chops when he joined the Marines in the '40s, eventually becoming a member of a 22-piece orchestra called the Baracudas, which featured members of the Glenn Miller, Count Basie, and Tommy Dorsey orchestras. By the mid-'50s, Johnson had hooked up with Chuck Berry and started playing a style of music that would come to be known as rock and roll.
"To me, rock and roll was played all the time -- it just didn't have that title," Johnson says via phone from his home in St. Louis. "I went on the Alan Freed tour with a lot of other artists, and we went from Brooklyn to Florida in 1955. Alan gave the music that name. I know he kept saying that we should call this rock and roll, because that's the dance the kids did. Alan said they were rocking and rolling. At that time, it was played on the piano, because Fats Domino and Little Richard and all them were piano players, and they were big stars."
Switching between first-person narration by both Johnson and Fitzpatrick, and jumping between the present and the past, Father of Rock and Roll is sometimes hard to follow. Yet Fitzpatrick's careful research and sensitivity to issues of race and class make the book, which has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the category of "Distinguished Biography by an American Author," a worthwhile read, if time-consuming (the tome is nearly 400 pages).
"Johnnie is like family to me," says Fitzpatrick, who recently has been asked to write biographies of Bo Diddley and Wilson Pickett.
For his visit to Cleveland, Johnson -- who is also the subject of a forthcoming tribute album on Atlantic Records -- will conduct a piano master class at Case Western Reserve University, perform during the museum's "Toddler Rock" program for Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority single parents, visit cancer patients as part of the Music Therapy Program at University Hospitals, and perform in the atrium at University Hospital. The main event, however, will be a live performance at the Rock Hall at 7:30 p.m. on December 1, which will be followed by a book-signing and question-and-answer period. Tickets are $15.
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Dink 2000 (the band formerly known simply as Dink) is about to make its first Cleveland appearance since reforming about four months ago. So far, the band has played a few area shows, mostly in Youngstown and Akron, and has plans to record a three-song demo that it will shop to major labels. It performs on November 27 at the Phantasy (11802 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood) with the Plastics and Pleasure Void. In its heyday, the band was signed to Capitol Records and toured with groups like Lords of Acid, Pop Will Eat Itself, KMFDM, and Compulsion. Founding keyboardist Sean Carlin has put together a new lineup that features drummer Eric Baltrinic (formerly of the TwistOffs), singer-guitarist Billy Farkas, and bassist Lila Waltrip (formerly of NY Surfgirl). Mark Hughes, who holds a master's degree in film from Kent State University, is also a member.
"We're doing some of the hits, but the majority is new material," says Waltrip. "I would say the new material rocks a little bit more, because there's more guitar to it. The chemistry is really great, too. Every show gets better. It's amazing how fast it's come together. I've been with bands before where it has taken a year or two to reach this level."
By the time the group imploded, Carlin says "dope, alcohol, and ego" were all contributing factors. In addition, he says that the band made "several bad business decisions" along the way and was pigeonholed as industrial rock, a term he hates. When asked if he would be changing the name Dink 2000 to Dink 2001 if the group stays together that long, Carlin admitted the name will probably change to D2 to avoid any sort of lawsuit.
"I've moved on," he says. "I don't have any contact with the other original members, and I hope they've moved on. What we're doing now is linked to the past, but not the same. Other than that, talk to my lawyer. I think what we're doing is a legitimate extension of the original band."
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Fabrizio D'Arcangelo (one-half of the Italian DJ outfit D'Arcangelo -- the other member is his twin brother Marco) will be performing with Marco Passarani, who runs Nature, an electro label in Italy, on November 27 at Speak in Tongues (4311 Lorain Road). It's one of only two shows the two are doing in the States (the other is in Chicago on November 26), and, judging by D'Arcangelo's import LP Shipwreck (which was released through the Aphex Twin-run Rephlex Records in May of this year), the show should be a blend of undulating, Tangerine Dream-inspired ambient and harsh, experimental electro. -- Jeff Niesel
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